USAF Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Specialist

Ground crew signalling to pilot of a Military Airplane
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Remember that scene from GI Jane? No, not the one where Ms. Moore shaves her head. The one where they're all trapped in bamboo cages getting tortured because they couldn't evade their instructors.

Yeah, the Air Force has folks who do that full-time.

While Pararescue Specialists deploy on rescue missions worldwide, SERE specialists serve as subject matter experts that train all aircrew personnel (and others at risk) how to handle themselves if they're ever caught up in hostile territory.

That means teaching airmen from all walks of life a vast array of skills, from how to improvise basic shelter and find sustenance to how to escape active pursuit by the enemy -- and resist coercion if captured.

SERE specialists can find themselves assigned to one of six main SERE training detachments across the country, or conducting "refresher" training at any Air Force squadron. But first, they have to make the cut and endure all of the training they'll eventually inflict on others.

Military Requirements

To even get on the radar for SERE, recruits must have a high school diploma and a general technical score of 55 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The Air Force Enlisted Classification Manual suggests that high school "courses in speech, education, physical education, biology, botany, anthropology, geology, and geography are desirable" for aspiring SERE instructors.

In addition, eligibility for a secret security clearance is required.

In addition, recruiting website GoSere.com says that applicants must meet additional requirements, such as:

  • Must not have speech impediment which interferes with clear enunciation
  • Have normal night and color vision
  • Uncorrected distant vision not worse than 20/400 each eye corrected to 20/20
  • Lift 70 pounds over your head
  • Pass the minimum requirements for the SERE Physical Ability And Stamina Test (PAST) [Check out the career profile for Pararescue Specialists for the details of this exam.]
  • Be able to carry a 65-pound backpack four miles in one hour
  • Have no allergies to pollens, grasses, etc. [Now that just seems harsh. But I suppose sniffling and sneezing can interfere with the whole "evasion" bit.]

Education

Right after Air Force basic training, potential SERE specialists stay at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) Texas for a short (but intense) one- to two-week screening course that, in addition to testing physical and psychological limits, also evaluates candidates' learning, teaching, and leadership skills.

The 336th Training Group (TRG), based at Fairchild AFB, is the next stop for those who pass through the crucible at Lackland -- which, according to the 336th TRG website, is only half of those who made the attempt. The 336th oversees the entire training pipeline, which takes at least a year to complete, though students don't remain at Lackland the whole time.

To begin with, apprentice SERE specialists have to spend six months going through SERE courses as students, enduring the same punishment they'll later inflict on others.

This includes arctic survival training at Eielson AFB in Alaska and water survival training in Pensacola, Florida. At some point in their training, SERE specialists also earn their jump wings at the Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Finally -- assuming they've survived -- SERE students end up at Lackland again for five-and-a-half months to make the transition from survivalist to survival instructor. But the home stretch isn't all about the classroom: According to GoSere.com, students can expect physical training such as "runs of 2-8 miles . . . 200 push-ups, 200 sit-ups, 200 flutter kicks, 50 pull-ups, and 50 8-count body builders" before getting behind the school desk for the day. In addition, much of the instruction is outside the classroom, heading out to the field "before the sun is up .

. . [and] being awake for countless hours without sleep."

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